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Gazette Premium Content Former Colorado Springs youth leader gets 6 months for unlawful sexual contact

By Lance Benzel Updated: August 26, 2013 at 9:21 pm

A former Colorado Springs youth leader who pleaded guilty to inappropriately touching a 13-year-old girl is headed for jail.

Jason O. Gaulden, 36, was sentenced Monday to six months of work release at the El Paso County jail, followed by four years of probation.

The penalty marked an end to more than four years of court battles - with Gaulden's supporters and detractors each decrying the delays.

"Everyone involved has the right to be outraged," said El Paso County District Judge Thomas Kennedy, who criticized how the case was handled while filling in for a judge recovering from surgery - calling it "an affront to the victims" and unfair to Gaulden.

At the hearing, prosecutors recounted a bevy of factors contributing to the slow progress, including personnel changes at the District Attorney's Office, hold-ups by prosecutors in turning over evidence to the defense and pre-trial motions that gobbled up court time.

A youth activist turned rising star in the region's nonprofit community, Gaulden held stints at the El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs; the Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region; the Daniels Fund in Denver, and the Colorado Springs Conservatory. His fall from grace came with a 2009 arrest on suspicion of molesting a girlfriend's 13-year-old daughter.

His legal troubles grew in 2010 when an ex-girlfriend in her 30s stepped forward and said she, too, was sexually assaulted by Gaulden.

Each case had clear evidentiary hurdles. Although the teenager's mother brought police a taped confession by Gaulden, it later emerged that Gaulden made the statements while the woman held a gun to his head - throwing admissions into question.

The older accuser said she was assaulted by Gaulden five years earlier - essentially pitting her word against his in court.

The woman said she initially decided against reporting the alleged rape when it happened in 2005, but came forward because of guilt upon learning of a new allegation.

Both cases were settled in July with a plea agreement that tossed most of the allegations against Gaulden, including all charges related to the woman's rape.

In exchange for his guilty pleas to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a felony, and unlawful sexual contact, a misdemeanor, prosecutors offered Gaulden a deferred judgment that effectively took jail time off the table.

Instead, Gaulden was to participate in therapy for four years, and if successful, no conviction would enter on his criminal record.

Prosecutor Jennifer Viehman, who inherited the case from another prosecutor, cited a variety of factors for offering the plea bargain, from accusers who were reluctant to undergo the trauma of trial, to the passage of time.

She also noted that Gaulden, who denied touching the teen, passed a polygraph test administered by Colorado Springs police examiner Robert Armstrong.

"I've actually never seen someone pass a polygraph with him," Viehman said, adding that the deal also contained two provisions important to accusers: That Gaulden register as a sex offender, and that he be prohibited from sealing his arrest records.

Gaulden's attorney, Ted McClintock, said he advised his client to take the deal rather than risk a possible life sentence should he be convicted at trial.

The plea deal took a turn in court, however, when Kennedy announced that he wouldn't accept the agreement without imposing jail time. He also ordered that Gaulden's probation be supervised during the four-year term of his deferred sentence.

Relatives of the older of the accusers softly cheered his sentence in court. Gaulden's supporters, however, were furious.

"I've never seen a fiasco like I saw today," said Jim Miller, formerly the president of the Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region.

Miller, who worked with Gaulden, attended the hearing alongside fellow Gaulden supporters the Rev. Promise Lee, a pastor and community activist, and influential Colorado Springs developer Steve Schuck, who called the case a "miscarriage from the beginning."

"He never should have been prosecuted," said Schuck, who met Gaulden as a teen through the Rev. Lee and praised him as smart and driven. Schuck said he was among the donors to Gaulden's legal defense team, though he later called his contributions a "loan."

Supporters of Gaulden's ex-girlfriend, meanwhile, expressed gratitude toward Kennedy.

"I'm so thankful that he was on this case at the end," the woman said. "We hadn't really had any support on our side the entire time."

Gaulden is due to be remanded to custody on Sept. 9.

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